Joe Bob's America

Making My Peace With Billy Graham

February 22, 2018

A few years back I was invited to a conference on Christian-Muslim relations, held at an old castle in Vienna, and one of the seminars was led by Anglican theologians from Oxford University, and another was led by faculty members from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. The Baptists listened politely to the Oxford divines droning on and on about the cultural demographics of Manchester, but when the Baptists chose to talk about “the living Christ” and His absence from the empty cathedrals of Europe, the Anglican divines became infuriated. They felt somehow personally attacked, even though nothing the Baptists said went very far beyond the simple message of Billy Graham that he had repeated millions of times in thousands of sermons. The fact that this simple altar-call message now seemed strange to men who had dedicated themselves to a life serving Christ struck me as odd then and still strikes me as odd. It’s as though they were saying, “We’re post-Christian.” Well, if you’re post-Christian, please remove the vestments and go run a hedge fund.

Numero Three-o: Billy Graham was multicultural, ecumenical, a believer in the big tent that includes all, but he was never universalist, in the sense of “there are many paths to God and they’re all equally valid.”

Count the number of times Billy Graham said “Jesus Christ” in any sermon, always talking more about Christ the messiah than Jesus the man. The fact that he was even allowed on network television, given the sensitivity of executives to religious partisanship, is some evidence of how powerful his pulpit presence was. There were plenty of people who didn’t like him—Harry Truman thought he was a bit of a self-promoter—but the nameless ones whose lives were changed at those rallies and crusades saw beyond the curly hair and the chiseled features and the smooth velvet tone of his voice and the “counselor to presidents” image, and just heard Billy trying to help them out. In a world where the pregame prayer at the football game had become a sort of pagan paean to Zeus, Billy Graham kept saying Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, only Jesus Christ.

And they came in droves, and they believed, and that’s his legacy, nothing else.

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